(Reuters) - Springboks rugby player Eben Etzebeth could face legal action over an alleged assault after the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Wednesday it would ask the country’s Equality Court to institute proceedings against him.
It follows an incident in the coastal town of Langebaan on Aug. 25, during which a man was allegedly racially and physically abused by a group that included Etzebeth.
State prosecutors have yet to decide whether there is a case to answer.
Etzebeth has denied any wrongdoing and is currently in Japan at the Rugby World Cup, where he will start for South Africa against Italy in a must-win Pool B match in Shizuoka on Friday.
“It is completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone in Langebaan. Multiple witnesses can corroborate that,” Etzebeth said in a statement following the incident.
The SAHRC believes he has a case to answer and on the day the South Africa lock plays against Italy it will lay a formal complaint with the Equality Court, which hears matters relating to unfair discrimination, hate speech and harassment.
South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has had a completed docket from a police investigation into the incident for over a month, but has not said if it will press charges.
The Equality Court can hear cases if the NPA does not prosecute and usually hands out fines or community service.
South African Rugby, the sport’s national governing body, has stood behind Etzebeth, with Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus saying he had accepted the player’s version of events.
“After speaking to Eben and hearing his side of the story, there is obviously trust between a coach and a player,” Erasmus told reporters before the team left for Japan.
“I must trust him to do some stuff on the field for me and win Test matches for us, and he must trust me to believe him when he tells me something.
“I’m pretty comfortable with what he’s told me and obviously you can’t just believe what someone else says on social media.
“I’m confident that that’s not the truth and if anything like that happens and it is the truth, then somebody like that would not be part of our team and would not go to the World Cup.”
Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris